They say the pen is stronger than the sword, but what about the brush? Can a work of art be so significant that it will change the world? Some works have such power. Here are seven works of art that changed the world:
1. Giotto di Bondone — Scrovegni Chapel in Padua
Completed in 1305, Giotto’s frescoes “discovered a new form of figurative realism. In these paintings, Giotto (c. 1267–1337) created three-dimensional figures that were attached to the ground and constructed as if they were real people with real emotions. Although the artist did not use linear perspective — which would be developed in the next century — his figures were convincingly presented on a two-dimensional surface, and this was an innovative and new approach that changed the course of art history and represented the Renaissance.
2. Caravaggio — “Death of the Virgin”
The Death of the Virgin, painted by Caravaggio in 1605, realistically depicted the Virgin Mary at the moment of her death, in contrast to traditional representations of her as a deity. Caravaggio (1571–1610) made a shock when, commissioned by the Carmelite Church, he painted Mary without playing with the well-known images of her death. Instead, Caravaggio showed her at the moment of her earthly death, pale and surrounded by grief, offering a realistic depiction and changing the way the sacred was presented. The Carmelites took down the painting almost as soon as it was hung in 1606. It has changed the history of art, but it has also changed the way we think about death and how objects are treated.
Interesting article: Top 10 works of Leonardo da Vinci
3. Pablo Picasso — Girls of Avignon
After nine months of refinement, Picasso (1881–1973) presented his enormous painting of five women in 1907. It represents a radical departure from pictorial conventions and notions of beauty, and also presents African and oceanic art as the touchstone of the modernists.” a departure from anti-naturalistic figuration.
In addition to art from Africa and the Pacific, the work depicted figures from multiple perspectives simultaneously, allowing the viewer to essentially move around them. In Les Maidens d’Avignon, Picasso added a fourth dimension of representation, time. It is hard to imagine how the history of modern painting would have developed without this masterpiece.
4. Marcel Duchamp — “Fountain”
Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” changed the idea of what could be called art. When Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) submitted his work anonymously to the salon of the Society of Independent Artists, it was immediately rejected and instantly became famous. Inverted urinal signed “R. Mutt 1917 questioned whether an artist must create an object in order for it to be considered art.
5. Frida Kahlo — “Self-portrait with a necklace of thorns and a hummingbird.”
Frida Kahlo (1907–1954), one of the most prominent artists of the 20th century, placed her emotional and physical pain on canvas and revealed hidden taboo themes through the symbolism of fruits and flowers. She also drew inspiration from Mexican traditions and the pre-Hispanic past. These influences came together in her Self-Portrait, and her influence proved to be lasting.
Related article: The most famous paintings of all time
6. Jacob Lawrence — Migration.
Exhibited in 1941, The Migration series tells the story of the Great Migration, during which 6 million black Americans moved from the rural South to the cities in the North. According to Rooks, Lawrence’s series of 60 paintings (1917–2000) “represented American storytelling from a black perspective in the form of an epic.” The Museum of Modern Art described it as “a milestone in the history of modern art and a key example of the radical rethinking of history painting in the modern era.”
7. Banksy — “Girl with a balloon”
British artist Banksy has created many groundbreaking works since he started bombing walls in Bristol in the 1990s. A case in point is his 2003 painting on the West Bank barrier wall in Jerusalem, which depicts a protester tossing a bouquet of flowers.
But in 2018, he shocked Sotheby’s visitors when his Girl with a Balloon sold for $1.4 million and was immediately destroyed thanks to a shredder the artist hid in a frame. In the long run, work can affect how we value art.
Art history includes many other pioneering and influential works—to name but a few: Jackson Pollack’s drip painting Convergence (1952), Andy Warhol’s Cans of Campbell’s Soup (1962), Romar Bearden’s Dove ( 1964), Sheep’s Head, White Hills of Hollyhock Hills by Georgia O’Keeffe (1935) and Partisan Girls “Do women have to be naked to get into the Underground Museum?” (1989).
Read more: Michelangelo’s Most Famous Works